COVER STORY

It’s the re­la­tion­ship that forms the ba­sis of any com­pelling restau­rant – the chef and the pro­ducer. To cel­e­brate to­mor­row’s de­li­cious. Pro­duce Awards 2016, SHAN­NON HARLEY looks at three strong culi­nary kin­ships

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Stel­lar Con­tents -

The se­cret to ev­ery top chef’s suc­cess.

If you thought a chef’s best friend was a sharp knife, think again. The most im­por­tant tool in the mod­ern-day chef’s kit is their phone, so they can be in con­stant con­tact with their other halves – the pro­duc­ers, grow­ers and sup­pli­ers on the front­line sup­ply­ing their kitchens.

With talk of trust, loy­alty and re­spect, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween chef and prove­dore re­sem­bles a kind of food-in­spired ro­mance – or “pro­mance” as we like to say.

At the heart of the union is a pas­sion for sup­port­ing eth­i­cal and sus­tain­able prac­tices, with a view to en­sur­ing the fu­ture of food. Here, we look at three of the in­dus­try’s most en­twined re­la­tion­ships.

SHAN­NON BEN­NETT & MARK EATHER

“Fish from a net is un­sus­tain­able – no top chef in Aus­tralia should be us­ing trawled seafood,” says Shan­non Ben­nett, of Vue de monde in Mel­bourne. That’s why Ben­nett and other restau­rant lu­mi­nar­ies rely on Mark Eather for much of their seafood. Eather prac­tises a sus­tain­able, hand-caught ap­proach to fish­ing – the op­po­site of the mass-catch model.

Eather uses the tra­di­tional Ja­panese ike jime method, which aims to catch quickly, kill quickly and chill quickly, so there is no stress on the an­i­mal.

“What you get in terms of qual­ity com­pared to trawled seafood is a mil­lion times bet­ter,” says Ben­nett, who has worked­with­worked with Eather for a decade. The two were in­tro­duced by

Neil Perry, who was ad­mir­ing Eather’s line-caught snap­per at Tokyo’s Tsuk­iji fish mar­ket. Iron­i­cally, it came from Aus­tralia.

At that point the wild fish­er­man mostly sourced his prod­ucts for Ja­panese clients. Perry spread the word back home, re­cruit­ing Ben­nett and Kylie Kwong, who banded to­gether to sup­port the out­spo­ken fish­er­man so he could op­er­ate in Aus­tralia.

Eather is cur­rently work­ing on a sus­tain­able fish farm of the fu­ture with ex­per­i­men­tal ocean ponds in Tas­ma­nia and Queens­land.

“Aqua­cul­ture is the way for­ward,” says Ben­nett. “Yes he has to charge three times as much for his prod­uct, but it’s in­cred­i­ble. If we don’t sup­port wild fish­er­men we’ll be look­ing back and talk­ing about what fish used to look like in the very near fu­ture.” The pair is in touch three or four times a week, and Ben­nett oc­ca­sion­ally goes out on the boat with Eather.

““It’s It’s a re­la­tion­ship based on trust, to­tal trust,” says the chef. ““Trust Trust comes with knowl­edge and he’s given me so­muchso much

knowl­edge.”

RIGHT Tim John­stone with Peter Gil­more on the John­stone farm in the Hawkes­bury. BELOW Franklin chef David Moyle and seafood spe­cial­ist James Ash­more.

DAVID MOYLE & JAMES ASH­MORE

At the es­teemed Ho­bart restau­rant Franklin, the menus are de­fined by a holy trin­ity of pro­duc­ers: mar­ket gar­dener Paulette Whit­ney from Prove­nance Grow­ers, Bruny Is­land pig farmer Ross O’meara and seafood spe­cial­ist James Ash­more.

“The restau­rant wouldn’t ex­ist with­out them,” says chef David Moyle. “I be­lieve that pro­duc­ers are more im­por­tant than chefs. With­out them I have noth­ing to work with.”

Qual­i­fied diver Ash­more started in the oys­ter game 10 years ago, but now sup­plies Moyle with a range of seafood such as kelp, sea urchins, peri­win­kles and lesser known fish, such as the stripey trum­peter.

“We aim to be sus­tain­able at all lev­els,” says Ash­more. “But the fun bit is work­ing with pas­sion­ate fish­er­men to sup­ply chefs who care and un­der­stand you can’t get the same seafood 52 weeks a year.”

Re­source­ful chefs like Moyle change their menus de­pend­ing on what del­i­ca­cies their pro­duc­ers source.

“This can lead to in­con­sis­tency on a menu – for in­stance James called to­day to say the weather was too rough for the fish­er­men – but to me that in­con­sis­tency is bril­liant.”

At the same time, the pro­ducer knows the ad­van­tages of these close re­la­tion­ships.

“If they have some­thing spe­cial they’ll come to you, and you’ll just take it all so they’re not left with ex­cess of a fi­nite prod­uct,” adds Moyle.

He isn’t the only chef un­der Ash­more’s spell. When Noma chef Rene Redzepi vis­ited Tas­ma­nia he was “blown away by him”.

Sashimi-grade tuna and pre­cious cray­fish might be in de­mand in some cir­cles, but Ash­more prof­fers sea urchins, which have a shelf-life of two days, wakame, a Ja­panese weed found along the coast, and peri­win­kles, a byprod­uct from abalone dives.

“We can go through 15kg of peri­win­kles in a week­end,” says Moyle. “They are cheap, sus­tain­able and to­tal umami bombs. Us­ing them is a point of dif­fer­ence for me and a way to sup­port James com­mer­cially.”

PETER GIL­MORE & TIM & LIZ JOHN­STONE

It’s fit­ting that a chef as ac­claimed as Peter Gil­more, at the helm of Syd­ney’s Quay and Ben­ne­long restau­rants, has an ex­clu­sive re­la­tion­ship with his farm­ers. The chef, renowned for his use of rare and heir­loom veg­eta­bles, herbs and ed­i­ble flow­ers, has worked with Tim and Liz John­stone from John­stone’s Kitchen Gar­dens for the last five years. “We have quite a unique re­la­tion­ship,” he says. “They grow to or­der for me, so we have a be­spoke farm­ing ar­range­ment.” Un­usu­ally, it’s all barter. The Fink Group (which owns Ben­ne­long and Quay, as well as Fire­door and Otto in Syd­ney and Bris­bane) in­vested in the John­stone’s farm in Syd­ney’s Hawkes­bury re­gion when they were start­ing out, agree­ing to be paid back through pro­duce.

“It re­ally worked for them and for us. You have to go that ex­tra mile if you want some­thing spe­cial,” says Gil­more.

So what comes first, the dish or the veg­etable? Gil­more works on both si­mul­ta­ne­ously.

“Last year I grew a yel­low Romesco cau­li­flower in my own gar­den and fell in love with the flavour, but I didn’t have a dish in mind.”

Other times he’ll ask the John­stones to cul­ti­vate a spe­cific veg­etable for a dish. Some­times the farm­ers will sur­prise the chef with an ex­per­i­men­tal crop, such as a cone-shaped cab­bage that Gil­more pick­led so the var­ie­gated red and white leaves turned pink.

It is a re­la­tion­ship un­der­pinned by reg­u­lar com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

“Tim can be com­mit­ting 500m of his veg­etable space to a par­tic­u­lar va­ri­ety, so I agree to buy a cer­tain quan­tity. Then we have to suc­ces­sion plant so it’s not all ready at once. That way I can keep a dish on the menu for a cou­ple of months.”

The farmer is not only work­ing with the chef, he has to think like the chef. For this power cou­ple, that yields a crop of new ideas. Read about the win­ners of the Pro­duce Awards in Oc­to­ber de­li­cious. on sale Septem­ber 15.

Mark Eather and Shan­non Ben­nett.

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